Nation Contributing Editor Stephen F. Cohen and John Batchelor continue their weekly discussions of the new US-Russian Cold War. (Previous installments, now in their fourth year, are at TheNation.com.)
Pointless and recklessly irresponsible new sanctions recently adopted almost unanimously by Congress against Russia are, as Cohen has long argued, evidence that the new Cold War is more dangerous than was its 40-year predecessor. Still worse, the sanctions, inspired more by unverified “Russiagate” allegations against Trump than by anything Moscow has actually done recently, further prevent him from seeking cooperation instead of conflict with the Kremlin, as previous presidents did and indeed as President Trump has tried to do. In themselves, sanctions are expressions of petulant attitudes, not real policy-making, and Moscow will cope with these as it has with many previous ones. After all, Russia has been under one kind of US sanction or another periodically for one hundred years, ever since Washington refused to recognize the new Soviet government in 1917 for 15 years, and without interruption since the Jackson-Vanick sanctions of the 1970s, followed by those of the Magnitsky Act, the ones leveled by former President Obama, and now these new ones. But today’s US-Russian relations really are, as President Trump has tweeted, “at an all-time & very dangerous low.” Consider, says Cohen, the following combination of factors, which are without precedent:
§ Unlike during the preceding Cold War, the new one includes three fronts fraught with the possibility of hot war between the two nuclear superpowers: in the Baltic region where NATO continues its provocative military buildup on Russia’s borders; in Ukraine, also on Russia’s borders, where the civil-proxy war could escalated at any moment; and in Syria, where US and Russia military forces are often fighting in close proximity. All are sites of miscalculations or accidents waiting to happen.
§ Meanwhile, US-Russian cooperative relations, diplomatic processes, and even nuclear-arms-control treaties built up over decades are unraveling, if not already destroyed. Efforts to bolster or revive them are blocked in Washington.
§ Also unlike during the preceding Cold War, there is no anti–Cold War opposition in mainstream American politics or media. In the past, there were always enough anti–Cold War members of Congress, particularly in the senate, to provide a rallying point for opponents of escalation across the country. Today there are almost none in either house. (The Senate voted 98 to 2 for new anti-Russian sanctions. Some members of Congress speak privately with alarm about the “trajectory of US-Russian relations,” but, intimidated by Russiagate allegations and the neo-McCarthyist slurring of dissenting voices, are reluctant to speak out.) What kind of democratic representative body is this, Cohen asks, one that neither debates nor takes opposing initiatives? And, he also asks, what kind of Democratic Party has this one become, one whose Russiagate loathing for Trump and Putin far exceeds its concerns for American national security?